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Tag, Rag, & Bobtail

Last November, in my blog post Telling Their Stories, I talked about a play at Colonial Williamsburg called Sentiments of American Women. After talking with Emily, one of the creators of that play, I discovered that she was part of a two women play called Tag, Rag and Bobtail.

I find this play (Tag, Rag and Bobtail) fascinating because it takes a look simultaneously at both the American and British women, during the American Revolutionary war, who followed their men to war. We often hear the stories of women holding down the home front, while their men are off at the war. However, the story often goes untold of those that follow their men to war.

In Tag, Rag, and Bobtail, Emma Cross and Emily Doherty tell the stories of two women who follow their husbands to war. The play is based on letters, journals and pension records.

Emma shares the story of a British wife and mother, named Peggy, who travels to a land that she has never seen before with many other soldiers. She tells of being sick in camp, loosing a little boy to that same illness (and having to bury him in America), eventually loosing her husband to the war, and the adventures of remarrying.

On the other hand, Emily plays an American woman named Nancy. Nancy's story starts with her interest in and soon marriage to a neighbor boy. Shortly after their wedding, they become part of the American army. Then eventually a little girl joins the family. Nancy (Emily) also shares tales of laundry in the army.

Both of the women share about watching for the return of their husbands from the different battles. They also tell of their lives after leaving the army. Nancy and her husband are given land and then her husband talks of reenlisting (which they eventually do). Peggy's second husband also passed away and she was left with four children, She and her children became war captives and likely returned to New York after the surrender at Yorktown.

These stories are not unlike one that I heard growing up.

One of my favorite stories, from Your Story Hour, is The Gunner Wore Petticoats. This story tells the life story of a woman named Molly Pitcher or Mary Ludwig Hays. Mary was born on 13 October 1744 (1754). Her parents were German immigrants. She became a domestic servant for Dr. William and Anna Irvine in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. On 24 July 1769, Mary married William Hays, who was a barber in the town.

"Hays decided to enlist in the 4th Pennsylvania Artillery and served in the Continental Army when the American Revolutionary War began. It was very common for soldier’s wives to follow their husbands when they enlisted in the army. Mary Hays decided to join her husband at the Continental Army camp where she often washed clothes and cared for the sick." (1)

Mary - like many of the other women following the soldiers - nursed the sick, cooked, and did laundry. She gained the name Molly Pitcher during the Battle of Monmouth (in Freehold, New Jersey) on 28 June 1778.

"On that day, during the Battle of Monmouth, Molly Pitcher performed an act of unusual heroism, an act that would go down in history as legendary. That day in Freehold, New Jersey, it was told that Mary trudged back and forth from a nearby spring bringing water to the soldiers on that hot and smoky battlefield. Welcoming the sight of the sparkling water, the weary soldiers nicknamed her "Molly Pitcher." According to some accounts, on one of her trips from the spring, Molly Pitcher, as she was always called thereafter, saw her husband collapsing next to his cannon, unable to fight. Molly dropped her pitcher and took over his position, and she was seen firing the cannon throughout the dreadful battle until victory was achieved. Her act of heroism on that day earned her a sergeant's commission, given by General Greene, some even say by George Washington himself." (2)

"An old Revolutionary rhyme tells the story:

Moll[y] Pitcher she stood by her gun

And rammed the charges home, sir;

And thus on Monmouth bloody field

A sergeant did become, sir." (2)

After the war, Mary and William returned to Carlisle. They had a son named John. William passed away in 1786 and left Mary quite a sum of land. However, Mary's second husband John McCauley, whom she married in 1793 impoverished Mary and misspent her land. John McCauley would disappear from the family sometime after 1807. Mary lived the rest of her life in Carlisle "as a poor, gruff, but well-liked member of the community." (3) She would eventually, in 1822 receive a veteran's pension "of $40 per year" from the state of Pennsylvania. Mary passed away on 22 January 1832. She "was interred in the Carlisle Old Graveyard, where a cannon and a statue of “Molly Pitcher” stands above her burial site." (3)

Some of the women who have the most influence on the founding of our nation are not the ones whos' names we know, but rather the women who simply traveled with and took care of the men fighting for our freedom. I think it is important and worthwhile to tell all of their stories.




The Exasperated Historian ~ 130 Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley

Find a Grave ~ Molly Pitcher

National Women's History Museum ~ Mary Ludwig Hays

New Jerseys Women's History ~ Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley (Molly Pitcher)

Pennsylvania Center for the Book (library) ~ Molly Pitcher

Revolutionary War and Beyond ~ On This Day in History: January 22, 1832

Teach US History ~ Molly Pitcher


Studies Weekly ~ Molly Pitcher


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